2 January 2019

Relationships - when anger can be damaging

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me"

I remember thinking about this when I was about 8 years old. I recall where I was at the time, standing on the bars on the swing inside the climbing frame we had in the garden. I don't know who it was that had called me names, but I distinctly remember thinking "what a load of rubbish, course it hurts". It does hurt when people are verbally abusive. We feel emotional pain and whilst it doesn't break our bones it can leave us feeling broken-hearted. So what does it mean if somebody close to us verbally abuses us? Well yes, it hurts, and it can be damaging to the relationship.

I sometimes see clients with anger issues that are affecting their relationships. Often there's something underlying the anger; usually unmet childhood needs and unhealed wounds springing forth and highjacking their rational thinking. Something is said in anger, and it causes damage. We might not have consciously wanted to cause damage in that moment but maybe subconsciously we are trying to lash out and hurt because of the pain (from the past) that has been triggered within us. When we are feeling vulnerable and distressed we can revert to infantile responses but ultimately they often do us more harm than good. It can take a lot of courage to really do the soul-searching required to heal from those deep childhood wounds, but the consequences of not doing so may sabotage our close relationships and therefore our own happiness.

I have huge respect for those that choose to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough within a therapeutic relationship to learn how to regulate their emotions, allow a healthy functional relationship to develop with their therapist and to find ways of truly changing those patterns. This is not usually brief work. This relational work, where early unmet needs are being addressed, requires commitment and consistency. The therapist needs to have very clear boundaries to provide the containment required. The client needs to be ready and willing to go and look where that pain resides.

I'm not entirely sure if everybody so afflicted has the choice to engage at this level or not, but that leads to a whole philosophical debate about freewill/choice. All I do know is that I have been privileged enough to witness this profound growth in some.

This article, about the damaging effects of threatening divorce in relationships, prompted me to write this short post:

https://www.verywellmind.com/threatening-divorce-during-an-argument-4088210

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